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A Conversation with Beth Nielsen Chapman (continued)

PM: Look is a fantastic record.

BNC: Thanks.

PM: I listened to it a bunch the last two days, and really, there were no sleepers, no clunkers, nothing you started to skip over after a couple of plays. They're really good songs.

BNC: Thanks.

PM: Why was it first released in the UK?

BNC: Well, after I left Warner Brothers several years back, a couple of records back--I basically loved many of the people I worked with there, they were very big fans, and worked very hard. But unfortunately, the structure and the basic way that major labels work is that unless you're selling whole lots of records, you really don't ever get out of the hole, as you probably know.

PM: Indeed.

BNC: And once I sort of realized how it worked, I just looked at it and I said, "You know what? I've got to be able to approach this in a different way." I had sold 250,000 records here and 100,000 records there, and from the standpoint of an independent artist, that's fabulous. But from the standpoint of a major label, that's--

PM: Not recouping.

BNC: Yeah. They're saying, "Well, maybe next time we'll do better." I just felt that I've been very fortunate and successful as a songwriter, and I love making records, and I love being an artist. But I didn't feel like continuing on with the business model that would be like the black hole. Fortunately I was able to leave Warner Brothers and be released. Then I started becoming very interested in how the whole thing works, and where the money goes and where it comes from. And just from jumping in, I've become quite an expert. [laughs]

PM: Yeah, no doubt.

BNC: And I've worked with a really excellent attorney who was also a visionary, and started to see that if I were to split the world up into different territories, that would be a much better move for me, business-wise. Because, frankly, very few labels are globally strong. And even Warner Brothers, which is globally strong, if you're signed in Nashville and you go over to the UK, you're from Nashville, you're not one of them. So when I put out Sand and Water, and Elton John became very supportive of the record, and I would go over to the UK and I would find there would be resistance to really jumping in there and getting going with it.

PM: Even with Sir Elton's endorsement?

BNC: Yes. It was kind of a blase attitude. And really the bottom line was that it wasn't going to reflect on their bottom line if they helped sell records on Warner Brothers in Nashville.

PM: Oh.

BNC: And so it was, "That's fabulous, but it's not really our product." I mean, they kind of did the lip service, but you could feel that you were like the distant cousin. And again, it's a subtle thing. If you had seen me sitting in one of those offices, everybody was nodding their head and smiling and saying, "Oh, yes, great, fabulous. We'll do this, we'll do that." But if I said, "Well, can I have the budget to do this, or a little bit of that?" it was like, "Well, you'll have to get that from Nashville." Well, you go back to Nashville, and they say, "Well, if we're going to give you a budget for touring or something, I mean, it's not going to do us any good if you're touring in the UK." So you're stuck between these two worlds.

PM: Yikes.

BNC: So that spurred me on to deciding that never again was I going to do business thrice removed. I was going to approach my business as directly as possible. And in certain cases I might license a record through one country into another. For instance, I ended up doing a record and licensing my UK release through Sanctuary Records. They also did Europe and Ireland. And for the most part, that's fine, because I don't really have time to go around to each individual country and do a separate record deal. But at least when I'd go over to the UK, I was meeting with my record company in the UK, and we could discuss these different areas, and it was in their backyard, as opposed to trying to talk about it in Nashville.

PM: Right. And Sanctuary is an interesting company. I mean, weren't they originally kind of a head-banger outfit?

BNC: Yeah, yeah. But I've actually done quite well with them, and I think they did a great job.

PM: And they do Loudon now, and they do other really good songwriters.

BNC: Yeah. And the people that I work with there are very song-oriented and artist-driven. It's an artist-driven label, believe it or not, even though it's been heavy metal at times. But basically the reason I put Look out in the UK last March is because that was something that they were ready to have happen. The previous record, Deeper Still--I don't know if I sent you that one.

PM: I don't have Deeper Still, though I know some of the cuts from it. That's another great record.

BNC: Well, that one came out after I went through breast cancer. And I put it out on Sanctuary in the UK, and I put it out on Artemis in the US. Sanctuary did a great job, and in my opinion, Artemis dropped the ball. I mean, I'll just say that. I don't feel like they really supported it. And in fact, it became difficult to really settle up with them, and it is ongoingly difficult.

PM: Wow.

BNC: I mean, that's just the life as an independent artist. Some places you get things working right, and some places you don't. But the beauty of it is, because it didn't work out to my satisfaction with Artemis, I just said, "You can't have the next record." And I wasn't contracted to have to give it to them.

PM: Right.

BNC: So I kept my options open. And as I finished Look, I hadn't really had time--because I was making a record--I hadn't had time to negotiate and figure out where I was going to put the record out in the US and Canada and other places. Meanwhile, the earlier record had done really well in Europe, the Deeper Still record. And they were ready to put the next record out, and it was ready to go. So I thought, well, I'll just concentrate on Europe.

The other reason is that they actually still have radio stations in the UK and Europe where people call in and say, "I like that song, play it again." And then they don't get a tape recording at Clear Channel or something like that. They get a real person at the BBC, which is an example of who's been very supportive to me. There are radio personalities who are popular, and you can talk to them. There's this relationship between people and the music and the radio, one that unfortunately is very rare in America.

PM: Well, it resembles what we grew up with, but yeah--certainly nothing that's going on now.

BNC: Right. What we grew up with, exactly. That's what I'm saying. It's like we have lost something, culturally, I think, very essential to supporting and finding and nurturing strong artists. I mean, I think it's a travesty that there are so many talented young artists who--I know the internet is a wonderful frontier, it's still being sorted out. But there's still a tremendous loss, I think, when people can't just turn on the radio and go, "Wow, what was that," and call them up and find out what it was, instead of getting a computer, or a corporation.

PM: I really don't understand how Clear Channel got away and get away with what they do. I mean, in a lot of other industries that's considered an illegal monopoly. I don't understand how they came to control seventy, seventy-five, eighty percent of the airwaves, and the sheds, and the concessions and everything else.

BNC: Yeah. It's a very bad trend. I don't know if you saw the movie called The Corporation.

PM: No.

BNC: If you get a chance, check that movie out. It's pretty chilling. But corporations, by definition, are like this thing, they're like Hal from 2001. We've created them, but they've become entities unto themselves that don't really stop at a human being. They just become this collective of consciousness that is only interested in the bottom line, and will do anything. It's not a person at the head of Clear Channel saying, "I'm going to be a big bad guy," it's actually the collective mentality of what makes that thing breathe. And what it lives on is more acquisition. The human part of it has nothing to do with what it is. It's not human. Unfortunately, in the early '40s I think it was, there was a law passed that allowed corporations to be given the rights of American citizens.

PM: I've never heard that before.

BNC: This is in this movie. You really should see this movie, it's unbelievable. And actually somebody who ran a corporation sort of pushed it through, and nobody was really aware of what it meant, or what it would mean in the long run.

PM: The rights of a person...

BNC: And by doing that, something shifted. A corporation became this unstoppable thing, where you can have a company that's polluting a river and the CEO himself will be saying, "Well, I don't know, I can't seem to control it."

Anyway, that's a whole other deal. But I think in terms of music, it's been a tremendous loss to our culture. That's not to say that everything on the radio is bad. I think there's lots of great stuff on the radio. But I think the repetitiveness of it, and the whole political hierarchy and having to pay people tremendous amounts of money to even get anything played on the radio--

PM: Right, and radio consultants.

BNC: Don't even get me started on them.

PM: Indeed.

BNC: The whole idea that people sit in a room and press a button fifteen seconds into the song, that's just crazy.

PM: It has nothing to do with the artist end of things, and how songs get written, and recorded.

BNC: No. It served me well to put the record out overseas first, because I was able to tour. I went over there for two or three tours last year. I was able to really concentrate and promote fully in that area. So I've gathered up some great fans over there.  continue

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